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March 21, 2024

3 Novels for Fantasy Fans

by MK French

One of the great things about the fantasy genre is the wide variety available. These three novels are different but definitely should be on the fantasy fan's reading list.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

Bloodlust Blues by Luanne Bennett, narrated by Stephanie Cannon

book cover of paranormal romance novel Bloodlust Blues by Luanne Bennett
March 2024; Second Sky; 9781835253809
audio (8h 48m), ebook; paranormal romance

Charley Underwood runs the White Stag bar in Crimson, Georgia. The town is small, but it's home to witches, a werewolf pack, and vampires. Vampire blood is a hot commodity due to its ability to heal humans, so Charley has a profitable side venture selling it below street value to neighbors in a not-so-secret co-op. Various people are behaving in an odd manner and a New Yorker is opening a restaurant across the street from her bar. And if that wasn't bad enough, her usual vampire donor is out, leaving her to look elsewhere. It lands her right in the middle of a group of vampires hoping to take a substantial cut of her side business or kill her.

Billed as perfect for fans of Charlaine Harris, it certainly reminds me of the Sookie Stackhouse series. We have all the paranormal flavors of beings in this urban fantasy, as well as the illicit sales of vampire blood and the different species trying to live in something approaching harmony. There are signs of unrest, in that threatening letters are being left in mailboxes, vampires are harassed by churchgoing folk, and there's an entire underground that the local police aren't privy to. Charley has a network of friends of all kinds of folk, animals that show up and tend to hang around, and a tendency to speak before she thinks. On top of this, periods of adrenaline lead to telekinetic bursts of energy, so she might not be entirely human after all.

I enjoy Charley's voice, both in the word choices that the author uses as well as the Southern drawl that the narrator gives the audiobook. She deepens her voice for all the male characters, so they take on a generic sameness, but that doesn't detract from my enjoyment of the story. I started listening and the next thing I knew, hours went by. It's an engaging story, with Charley going from one disaster to the next, digging herself deeper into the underbelly of the supernatural world even when her shifter friends tell her to back off. She can't help it, as she takes it personally when friends are threatened or the townsfolk she cares for might be left without any affordable treatment for their woes. It's an understandable stance to take, even if it means she makes questionable decisions. The people who love her call her out on it, but she continues to try to do everything on her own.

As book one of a series, there are tantalizing hints of more secrets and possible answers that will no doubt come in future volumes. It's a fun start to an urban fantasy series and will be a joy to follow if you like the supernatural creatures featured showing up in the everyday world.

Buy Bloodlust Blues at Amazon

The Poison's We Drink by Bethany Baptiste

book cover of young adult fantasy novel The Poisons We Drink by Bethany Baptiste
March 2024; Sourcebooks Fire; 978-1728251950
audio, ebook, print (480 pages); YA fantasy

Brewing love potions is a dangerous business, and getting caught doing it can mean death or prison. Venus Stoneheart's mother was killed and she must take care of her younger sister Janus. The Grand Witcher is the head of Venus' coven and offers her the opportunity to avenge her mother in exchange for brewing dangerous potions to ensnare DC politicians. The deeper Venus goes into the city's political underbelly, the less she knows who to trust.

The novel contains a content warning in the beginning, as this obviously has sensitive topics broached in it. I find this to be a thoughtful addition, and it doesn't spoil the contents at all. 

Washington, DC is a city where witchers aren't welcome, and many have already fled for areas less prejudiced against magic and anything iron that could harm them. Most witchers had stable skills, but "sentient parasitic magic" also exists, and Venus has it with her. She suppresses it with a potion, and the witchers generally keep their heads down and magic on lockdown to avoid the notice of humans. She especially needs to keep her head down because she's illegally brewing potions, and those carry significant prison terms if someone doesn't decide to kill her for being a witch. The hatred and prejudice against the witchers have limited how many can gather in a single place, and on the line are laws to register all witchers and the gifts they have, which realistically becomes a death sentence for each one. The "offer" the Grand Witcher gives Venus isn't really a choice, as she can't say no to the head of the coven and needs the money to help her younger sister escape notice of those who would hunt her down. Brewing exacts a toll on her physically to start with, but it all gets worse for her from there.

Venus is a young woman that the reader can empathize with right away. She wants to keep her head down, and simply wants to live life. Her skill with brewing love potions is a rare one, and she's the last of her line able to do so. She also has the parasitic magic with her that she tries to suppress or control, as it's dangerous when let loose. The magic here can do amazing things, but its toll is bloody and potentially lethal. Those in power are willing to do just about anything to remain there, whether human or witcher. As Venus finds out more about her own power and some of the secrets kept around her, tensions in the novel grow higher.

The choppy sentence structure adds to the sense of speed and that a ticking time bomb is about to erupt. The shifts back and forth regarding who is trustworthy and who isn't meant there were so many surprises in the final third of the book. The anger and frustration at being used for others' agenda is such a palpable thing, as is her love for her family. I enjoyed reading her journey as she gained confidence in herself and figured out her best path forward. It's a rough path, and the future is still full of danger. Trust me, it's worth the read to see it.

Buy The Poisons We Drink at Amazon

The Emperor and the Endless Palace by Justinian Huang

book cover of fantasy novel The Emperor and the Endless Palace by Justinian Huang
March 2024; MIRA; 978-0778305231
audio, ebook, print (320 pages); romantic fantasy

In 4 BCE, an ambitious courtier seduces the young emperor. In 1740, an innkeeper agrees to help a mysterious visitor get a rare medicine, unleashing an otherworldly terror. In present-day Los Angeles, a college student meets a beautiful stranger and cannot shake the feeling they’ve met before. These two men meet across different lifetimes, reborn to meet again. Each time, they're tested by the worlds around them. Eventually, they realize their love can transcend time but could consume them as well.

The book opens with tales on how fox spirits can gain immortality alongside how He Shican discovered he is of the cut-sleeve persuasion. (From historical tales of the noble that cut his sleeve to leave bed rather than wake his lover.) We meet the couples in each timeline: Dong Xian is the courtier in the Endless Palace asking about a new potential influence on the Emperor even though the country's beloved princess was told to kill herself for crossing the Dowager Empress. He Shican built a new inn out of the way of most traffic and offers to help introduce Jiuliang to a renowned doctor. Med student hopeful River meets Joey at a rave when ecstasy doesn't agree with him. 

The three lifetimes in this novel are interconnected, progressing alongside each other. We think we know who River is from the first set of lovers, and what the relationship is going to be within the second. The connections between the men shift and change with the different lifetimes, as well as who Remembers the past. They're trying to break the cycle of mistakes made in the past, where obsessive love ultimately destroyed the relationship. It's a story within a story within a story, about love and family and connections everywhere. It definitely tugged at my heart as I read; these disaster boys love each other so much, enough to defy convention, yet it isn't enough to dull the capacity to hurt each other, too. Very lyrical and beautifully written, with side characters that also enhance the drama in each lifetime.

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever. 

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